Thursday, November 8, 2012: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
D'Alesandro (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Organizers: Abigail Brown, Harvard University
Moderators: Antonio Sanfilippo, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Christopher Carrigan, George Washington University
Chairs: Joshua Rosenbloom, National Science Foundation
This panel looks across several domains of knowledge—social science, nutrition, psychiatry and finance—and shows that in each domain, the significant sponsorship of knowledge creation by interested parties has the potential to cause serious harm to our understanding of that domain. While the effects are hard to measure, and the exact causal mechanisms may vary, there is a striking similarity across disciplines in the nature of the problem.
We first present three papers on research in different fields and how that research has been distorted by the primarily financial interests of sponsors. The first paper looks at how the research agenda of nutrition science is distorted by the interests of the food industry, which sponsors research on health benefits but not harms. The second compares the experiences of contract program evaluators to the better-studied financial auditors to draw parallels between their experiences and identify potential leverage for improvement. The third paper looks at how conflicts of interest in psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association in particular, affects both the underlying science and the writing of practice guidelines that shape doctors’ prescribing patterns.
The final paper in the panel takes a different, more abstract perspective. Rather than look at the problems in a particular discipline, it explores the potential dynamic social harm that may be done in the situations described by the first three papers, by looking at the harmful effects of misinformation on learning and technological change. These dynamic effects caused by the types of distorted information discussed in the first three papers add urgency to the argument that conflicts of interest engendered by funding research by interested funders could be causing significant harm to society.
In addition to those interested in the role conflicts of interest plays in research, the papers presented in this panel session should be of interest to policy researchers whose work builds on the kinds of research we look at here. Those concerned with obesity research, medical cost containment, government program cost effectiveness, etc., all should be aware of the potential problems that distort research funded by interested funders.